By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE CAMERA IS THE MOST INTRUSIVE INVENTION EVER UNLEASHED ON THE WORLD, and the world has been altered forever by its peering, prying eye. That is both a negative and positive statement.
It has to be, since the fruits of photography are, on a good day, a mixed blessing. This unique bit of Industrial-Age machinery has, over several centuries now, investigated, invaded, illuminated and violated all of us. We simultaneously embrace this phenomenon and recoil from it. We hope its all-seeing orb won’t expose our particular secrets, but we cannot look away when it probes the dark truths of others.
Like many, I shoot through open windows as I walk through neighborhoods. I record what I tend to call “life leaks”. I maintain what I tell myself is a respectful distance, working hard not to capture anything starkly intimate about the lives that are concealed within houses, apartments, shops. I am only after shards, suggestions. Hints at the real wonders within. After all, it’s not, strictly speaking, my business, is it? Or might it be?
The camera, at any given time, is engaged in several ongoing chronicles of horrors and triumphs of the human condition in various global “hot spots”. It has ever been thus. We look in on people’s daily toils, invited or not. We are peepers. This is not always a good thing, nor is it always a bad thing. Sometimes, as in the image shown here, our curiosity about how people live is rather benign. Look at the way the light plays inside that house. Oh, what’s that picture on the wall? What’s around that corner, I wonder? Other times, our curiosity is reportorial, even prurient. What happened to this building? Is there anyone left alive inside? Who did this? It’s a short walk from childlike wonder to journalistic horror shows. I wonder where the line is.
I wonder if there even is a line.
Since the invention of the camera, we are all witnesses. And we are all subject matter.
I worry about walking a tightrope between wanting to know and demanding to know, and how we can all stay aloft on that rope. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. We, every one of us, has to make that call one image at a time.